Oral Health (Teeth)
Reviewed by Amos S. Deinard M.D., M.P.H.
Department of Pediatrics
University of Minnesota
Did you know that when you take good care of your child’s teeth, your child will feel better, eat better, learn better, smile more confidently, and make sounds and form words better? The primary or “baby” teeth provide the path for the eruption of the permanent teeth.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that your child’s first dentist appointment should be within six months of the eruption of the first tooth and no later than her first birthday. At the visit, the dentist will gently examine your child’s teeth, mouth and jaw while your toddler sits on your lap. The dentist will also talk to you about how to take care of your child’s teeth at home, how food and eating habits affect her teeth and about ways to help ensure that she receives sufficient fluoride.
It is helpful to prepare your child for the visit to the dentist by reading a book about the dentist or playing about going to the dentist. Your local librarian can suggest some children’s books for you to read to your toddler. Do not tell your child that the visit “will hurt!”
Brushing Your Toddler’s Teeth
• Your child should get in the life-long habit of brushing her teeth after the eruption of the first tooth, start using a small (child-sized), soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. It is important for her to brush before eating and at nighttime before she goes to bed – brushing before breakfast is especially important. Use just a smear of fluoride toothpaste and wipe out the mouth after brushing with a moist washcloth to remove residual toothpaste. Swallowing too much fluoride toothpaste can lead to fluorosis (a mild discoloration of the teeth).
• You can be a role model for your toddler by brushing your teeth at the same time.
• It is recommended that you (or your child’s caregiver) brush your child’s teeth until they are eight years old. One tip is let your child brush their teeth first, and then you follow-up to their brushing to make sure their teeth are clean.
Teaching Your Toddler to Brush
• Picking out a bright-colored toothbrush can encourage your toddler to brush her teeth and to have her teeth brushed. Consider giving her a choice between two different colored or patterned toothbrushes. Always use a fluoride toothpaste.
• Help your toddler learn to brush her teeth by using a gentle, short, back-and-forth motion.
• Use positive feedback and encourage your child with praise such as “good job!”
Preventing Tooth Decay
• Don’t put your toddler to bed with a bottle of milk, juice, soda pop or sugared water. The sugar in these drinks stays in the mouth and is metabolized by the bacteria in the mouth, creating an acidic environment which etches the enamel of the tooth. This is the first phase of the caries process and, ultimately, tooth decay.
• In other words, only put unsugared water in the bottle before naps or bedtime or in the sippy cup during the day between meals.
• It is important that you practice good oral health, too. Bacteria that cause the caries process (the end point of which is the cavity or hole in young children can be passed from you to your toddler through your saliva. So, don’t wet the pacifier with your saliva, and don’t pre-taste or pre-chew food for your child. Brushing and flossing your teeth won’t eliminate the bacteria but will keep bacteria levels low.
Things to Discuss with Your Dentist
• Whether your baby needs fluoride supplements
• Concerns you may have about your child’s teeth and how to provide good oral health for your child at home and when your toddler is away from home, such as in child care or other early childhood programs.
This information is adapted, in part, from the Bright Futures: Family Tip Sheet at the National Center for Education in Maternal & Child Health,
Bright Futures Project.
Bright Futures Project.